Thematic Strategy

Focusing on The Important

Image Source: The Blue Diamond Gallery

Depending on mood, during my daily walk, I am either listening to pump me up music or a podcast. More often than not, the latter. It is a good way of feeding my brain while also helping me to feel like I am making good use of the time, as I define good use - your mileage may vary.

Weekday listening is usually tech, networking, business, or news. Weekends is more of the lean-back type of content, feeding my soul. This last weekend I was listening to Fresh Air, where host Terry Gross was replaying an interview with the iconic Francis Ford Coppola.

There was this great moment in the interview, around 44.30 where Coppola says that whenever he makes a movie, he always has a theme, preferably a one-word theme. For example, in “The Godfather”, the theme was succession. He then goes on to explain that he has to answer so many questions every day, and most of those questions he knows the answer for. However, there are questions he does not know the answer for, and that’s when he says “well, what is the theme”. So, again, in “The Godfather”, as long as he was telling the story of the “king”(1), and his three sons, he knew what he was doing.

At that point in the interview, I stopped walking, and I said to myself in an excited way “that is STRATEGY!”.

At a nuts-and-bolts level of execution, strategy is about how you allocate resources, and sequence the allocation of those resources. How do you make those allocation decisions? By referring to the theme, the overall outcome you are pursuing, the experience you want a customer to have, how you are going to be the best company for partners, what the most significant achievement of a network architecture/design will be. When you are thinking in those terms, you know you are in the realm of strategy, the framing conversation for execution.

Strategy is not saying we are going to be a “software” company or a hardware company, or a services company, or something that feels like an important trend in the market, or an escape from market trends. Strategy is putting that clarifying stake in the ground around which all activities self-organize: that provides purpose and direction to everyday activities; that results in better outcomes for the entity you work for, and the customers it serves.

In the early days of Apple’s iPods and iPhones I always marveled at the thematic approach they took to major software releases. They did not simply create a set of release notes that listed a bunch of new features, or only talk about the new silicon inside the phones, they told the story of the theme for that major release.

Can you boil down a new product release, a new network architecture, or a new network design to a one-word theme? Try it, it may just make answering some of the seemingly hard questions, much easier.

Note: (1) Not literally a King, but referencing story archetypes